Text: James 2:14-26
James sometimes gets a bad wrap that he doesn’t like faith. This is straight up not true. Faith is a recurring focus (1:3,1:6, 2:1, 2:5) James says in 2:1 that we are to hold the faith of the Lord Jesus Christ, and hold it in such a way that our faith changes your life. In the second half of the chapter, James is concerned about those who hold the faith in the wrong way. Their faith is dead because it does not work. So here’s the simple message, “Living Faith is Faith that Works.”
Dead and Stuffed Faith (vs. 14-17)
James begins with two sobering questions, “What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him?” (vs. 14) The implied answers are “Not much good, and no they can’t.” Suppose a Christian brother or sister is lacking in basic essentials like food and clothes. Suppose one of you says “be warmed and filled and God bless” while brushing off this person who is not warmed, filled or blessed. These are just empty words because of the speaker’s idle hands. “So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead” (vs. 17). This lifeless faith is what you would find in a spiritual taxidermist shop. You can go in and admire the remarkably life-like cougar or trout or Reformed Calvinist. There’s a world of difference between life-like and living.
Belief is Not Enough (vs. 18-19)
“But someone will say, ‘You have faith and I have works.’ Show me your faith apart from your works, and I’ll show you my faith by my works” (vs. 18). In the Christian life, faith and works go together like inhaling and exhaling. As Billy Graham said, “Faith is taking the Gospel in; works is taking the Gospel out.”
Faith without works is not only dead, it’s demonic. “You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe––and shudder!” (vs. 19) The demons have accurate theology––they know God, but no practical theology––they don’t obey God.
Abraham’s Faithful Work (vs. 20-23)
Abraham, James says, was justified by his works when he offered up his son Isaac on the alter (vs. 21). In Genesis 22, God tested Abraham’s faith to see if he would obey. At the base of the mountain, Abraham commands his servants, “Stay here with the donkey; I and the boy will go over there and worship and come again to you.” These are two remarkable verbs––the boy and I will worship and come again. What was Abraham going to do at the mountain top? He says worship. Worship is to hear and obey God, even in a life shattering circumstance. Abraham said they will worship and then “we will come again.” How is this possible for Abraham to kill Isaac at the mountain top and then for them both to come back to the base camp? Hebrews 11 tells us that Abraham “considered that God was able even to raise Isaac from the dead” (Heb. 11:19).
Abraham’s faith and actions were united and in his believing obedience, and God justified him. Faith was active each step up the mountain (vs 22).
Justified by Works
“You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone” (vs. 24) What’s James point? Abraham both believed God and acted on that belief. James and Paul are not arm wrestling over faith and works but are rather locked arm in arm defending against dead faith and dead works. Paul would say “We are saved by faith alone” And James would promptly add “And this faith is never alone!”
Rahab’s Working Faith (vs. 25)
To add some more spice in the stew James holds up the prostitute Rahab as a faithful worker. Rahab was justified by works when she hid the Israelite spies and then lied to the soldiers about which way the spies scampered. Faith and faithfulness is not simplistic. Faith requires wisdom, shrewdness, courage and a deep understanding of who your faith is in––the Lord Jesus Christ.
Living Faith, Living Work (vs. 26)
James concludes that faith without works is like a cold body on a coroner’s table. The body can be intact, but if it’s just the body without any movement, the body is dead. No heart pumps, then no life. But a pumping heart is evidence for a living body. Our faith is like the heart with the first pumps of life. That first squeeze of the heart is absolutely vital to your life. But the second and third and millionth pump are also important and necessary to keep you alive and active. Faith is needed at the beginning of your Christian life, and it is needed to keep working at each new pump. “For as the body apart form the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead” But Jesus is the living Lord who gives you life. So your life as a Christian will hold living faith full of living work.